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Ski jumping case highlights sports’ dirty little secret

|Written By Jean Sorensen

Women ski jumpers are appealing a decision that upholds a bar on them competing in the 2010 Olympics. The appeal is based on the argument that the Vancouver Organizing Committee must host the Games in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits gender discrimination.

Earlier this month, a British Columbia Supreme Court ruling found the International Olympic Committee discriminated against women jumpers in the Winter Olympics but it did not have to abide by the Canadian Charter.

Davis LLP is spearheading the appeal of what is considered within sports circles as its dirty little secret. Women in sports have traditionally gotten the short straw and it is commonly accepted as the status quo.

So, why has Davis decide to spend $750,000 in pro bono hours taking the IOC’s refusal to include women ski jumpers in the Olympics to the Supreme Court and now to the B.C. Court of Appeal?

“We, at Davis, thought it was just wrong,” says Jeff Horswill, who has worked the case with fellow lawyer Ross Clark.

“I don’t think that either Ross nor I were fully aware of the history of discrimination of women in sports before we took on this case.”

Horswill says intially, they wanted to rectify one incident of injustice for women ski jumpers. As the Davis legal team of some 30 delved into the issue, they found that this was not an isolated incident.

Long-distance running has been a hot button before the IOC as women’s organizations have lobbied hard over the years to gain inclusion in the Olympics with the latest challenge coming prior to Los Angeles’ 1984 Summer Olympics.

The International Runners Committee went to court to get the 5,000- and 10,000-metre events included. Their bid was unsuccessful but a few years later the IOC capitulated.

“There is also a question with boxing in the 2012 games,” says Horswill, referring to the International Amateur Boxing Association’s bid to have women boxers included in the London Summer Games as it is the only event not represented by both genders.

Women’s boxing in Britain was illegal until 1998. The U.S. history of women in boxing is punctuated by court challenges with one of the most significant in March 1993 by Dallas Malloy, a 16-year-old who successfully sued USA Boxing in Federal Court for gender discrimination.

Horswill says he believes the IOC will be facing another court challenge if the women are not included in 2012.

Equal inclusion, not just the inclusion of women, has been a systemic issue in sports of all levels.

In early 2009, the Beacon Hill Little League girls’ softball team won an award of $1,000 each after the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Little League Canada discriminated by not paying their way to a national tournament as was the practice for the boys teams.

A league board member testified that the girls’ event was an invitation and not sanctioned event and that this was common practice.

The battles over gender discrimination have been rife around the international golfing scene. In B.C., women have challenged rights within golf clubs. Thirty-six women, including Vancouver lawyer Penny Paul, won a discrimination suit before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal when they were excluded from the men’s lounge at the upscale Marine Drive Golf Club.

Both the B.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeal reversed the decision and in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case. The courts ruled private clubs can discriminate. Similar cases exist in the U.S.

However, in the U.S., once a club has discriminatory policies in place, it is exempt from any special tax status.

Davis’ decision to take the ski jumping case to appeal (expected to be heard this fall) is garnering the firm international attention.

Horswill says the appeal decision has been reported even in Australia. As well, four different teams of filmmakers have camped in the Davis offices in Vancouver shooting footage for four documentaries in the making.

  • It is about time.

    Bruce duckworth
    Personally I couldn't be happier to see these women continue their fight. It is about time the IOC accepted the public outcry and quit hiding behind bogus criteria they have made up to protect themselves.

    Also hats off to Davis LLP

    Fight on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • A role for our courts

    The IOC won't fall under the jurisdiction of any country's court. Canadian courts need to step up to the plate and demand that the IOC get with the program. Gender discrimination is unacceptable in the 21st century. Our court system is progressive and should be the one to enforce Canadian, and international, standards.
  • Women

    They probably haven't figured out yes if the women, due to body mass index can jump farther than men ... If so, we'll never see the gals performing this sport = part of the "dirty little secret
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